Freaked Landscapes ∙ Eric Ellingsen ∙ FL18
The SYNs

Trailer for a Movie that Doesn’t Exist Yet:
a speculative future anthropology

Situation: Not just Site
Bridgeton, Missouri is a landscape of latent nuclear legacies, originating with the illegal disposal of toxic nuclear waste from the Manhattan project. Located here, the legacy of West Lake Landfill and Coldwater Creek have perversely affected the adjacent community over the past four decades, thereby catalyzing a group of residents, JustMoms, to speak and act out to the United States government in demand for a just solution to enduring problems of health and human safety.

The marking of nuclear landscapes in perpetuity have come to the fore through a government supported competition in the late 1990’s for a Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico, which is currently forestalled. The design calls for a marker that will endure for 10,000 years to prevent accidental public encounter with the toxic landscape.

The project is a collaboration between the memory and desires of the Bridgeton community through a partnership with the JustMoms group and a situated marking system which ties humankind to a landscape legacy which cannot be seen.

Textual signification, language, and symbols all deteriorate or modify over time, becoming void of understanding. Therefore, the critical aspect is to design something that is self-referential: enduring cultural and social productions. At the heart of the project then, is the notion of community, ritual, and performance.

The Making Of: A Director’s Cut

The Ring
“It turns out you have all these secret units … they all have football teams for their squadrons and they all play against the other secret squadrons in the secret football league. [So I got my hands on] the ring for the football team called the Red Hats … flying out of Area51.1

All [a watch] has to do is tell time.2

Einstein was correct in that everything is relative.3

Rings operate on multiple signifiers: as identification - signet rings have been used by nobility since early Christian times to authenticate one’s authority and identity. If the person were to die, the ring would be burned so as not to tarnish its legitimacy. As a contract - rings are exchanged in Judeo-christian rites of marriage, to show eternal commitment between two people. As a reward - rings are given to winners of a contest, i.e. the superbowl, to signify surmounting an obstacle.

This ring, is made from Bismuth - a radioactive element with the longest-known half-life of any radioactive isotope at 2x1019 years, Uranium has a half-life of 4.5x109 and our universe by comparison is only 1.4x1010 years old.

The ring extends the metaphor of persistence, in relation to the body. You are wearing something that is constantly changing, and will last longer than the waste itself, and is actively radiating you in innumerably small does. It’s an environmental registration device of longevity.

1 Trevor Paglen; Six Landscapes
2,3 Mel Leib; Memoir

Given to leaders of The SYNs exclusively. The ring is to be passed along to the next leaders as they assume leadership through the Oath of the Ring of SYN. The ring is also given to any community member who exacts a valorous deed in defense of the community

The Patch
“Secret societies are obsessed with symbols … the same is true for parts of the military and intelligence community as well. You often find that in the form of patches that people wear on their uniforms. And it turns out there’s all the ‘black’ projects in the military and intelligence community and they make uniform patches for them.” 1

“One tradition for pilots in the Air Force is to ... have a unit unique patch on the left shoulder of the flight suit,wing patch on the right”2

“The ... patch [is] carefully picked out and identifies the pilot being from a specific squadron.” 3

“In 1945, Mallinckrodt employees began wearing badges to measure radiation.” 4

The patch signifies that the individual is part of a larger community, united by a common value system. In the military these values may be freedom, or patriotism, or honor. Patches show solidarity and manifest globally, linking disparate groups. Here, the patch signifies the strength of the community and unification against a common aggressor. You are organizing against the enemy, common in your pursuit, developing your own value system to which they must be held accountable. It’s not a passive accountability but rather an active one.

1 Trevor Paglen; Six Landscapes
2,3 Mel Leib; Memoir
4 STL Post Dispatch; Legacy of the Bomb, 1989

Given to each community member who lives in the 4 mi. buffer when they turn 18, after adopting the charter of the SYNs, thereby enlisting them in the group. It is to be worn within the community when called to action and when then leave the community, as a performance of solidarity and identification within a larger context.

The Light
“People ask me how far away they live from the landfill ... We’re looking at some things as for a 2 mi. radius, others a 1 mi. radius, the settlement is a 4 mi. radius…so I drew a lot of maps.” 1

In modern orthodox Jewish culture, a continuous string transfers the conception of public space into private space, an eruv. Signifying a city-boundary wall, the boundary permits people to carry out their tasks on the Sabbath without breaking religious doctrine. The eruv unifies the community, with a shared belief that this marker permits transgression.

This invisible line created through legislature is rendered visible through the ordinary apparatus of street lamps. The lamps are replaced with a luminescent bulb, filled with tritium gas. The light and material references the linsatic compasses for way-finding and the application of radium to appliances in the nuclear age. The threshold of in/out is further expressed both aerially and terrestrially, as you traverse the border.

1 Mel Leib; Interview